Category Archives: genre studies

Genre Crisis: “New Adult” Label

a_4x-horizontalNobody likes to be put into categories, most of all writers. But categories—or in the world of books, genres—are very helpful for marketing and selling a book. When querying publishing firms and literary agents, one must identify their genre, which helps the editors and agents decide whether the project will fall into their areas of interest. But recently, I’ve had an extremely difficult time placing my novel in a genre, which should be a good thing because agents seek works that cross several genres, except it seriously curtails one’s ability to market himself.

I could easily make up my own genre: Southern comedy transgressive? Meta-cultural southern teen exploration? Young adult, but not that young, but maybe still in their twenties who like funny but also serious writing?

The problem is, if the agent doesn’t recognize the genre, then she or he cannot place it right? I tried literary, but that

dasfasf

can’t just say that: you need a better phrase.

brand is too broad. While my project has literary elements, it certainly could be explained more descriptively. I tried young adult, but this generally means the books is marketed for teens ages 12-15. My novel is marketed toward older teens and 20-somethings. It, like many New Adult novels, tracks the growth and development of young adults whose identities are forming, who are seriously changing.

So maybe your book is a noir space opera western with thriller-paced plotting, literary aesthetic, and occult elements? Well, you need a better way to say that, a shorter way.

As I’ve been e-mailing literary agents, literary magazines, and publishers, this question has plagued me constantly. Finally I found an age-group description “New Adult” with which to market the novel THE HEATHENS AND LIARS OF LICKSKILLET COUNTY. “New Adult” bridges the gap between the safe and young group of Young Adult (YA) readers and Adult fiction. But because my books deals with characters in between, I think this genre (a relatively new invention of words) is fitting.

Querying agents has so far not worked out, but I am still sending many, many emails all over the country (and the world!) to publish this novel, as well as poems and short stories.

Have you had trouble labeling a piece of work? What genre did you settle on?

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The Percy Jackson Experiment

It’s time to talk about YA seriously. We enjoy it secretly, buy it for our Kindles, Nooks, and IPads so no one will see the covers of the books we read, and we deny its quality. We say, “I don’t read YA, but I guess I enjoyed Harry Potter. And the Hunger Games. Oh, and–”

Let’s stop pretending: YA is just another category we can store books. That doesn’t mean YA books are shined up like you’d expect: no, YA books we consider suitable for teens and preteens are full of guts, sex, and gore. Teachers can apparently even be fired for reading YA material to their middle school classes. No that that’s a problem. Books are the one great free place for children anymore, forbidden to see R-rated films or cuss. They can sink into the sordid details of books their parents never expect hold immoral pleasures, those same parents only happy “that they’re reading.”

In my formative years, when I had so much acne my face looked like a red scatter-plot and my voice screeched like a porpoise, I

resented reading YA books. I tackled lengthy Dostoevsky tomes, serialized syntactically-repulsive Charles Dickens works, and sometimes even excerpts of Keats.  Now, this all had a profound effect on me, this chasing after philosophical significance in each work I read. I craved classics, and they served both to entertain me and make me look like an under-aged literati. I scoffed at kids who read so-called YA books.

To be honest, anything from The Hunger Games to Ender’s Game to Treasure Island may be flukes. They may entertain more than just young adults simply because they are not meant for young adults. But let me impress upon you an important idea. In publishing, the marketing choice to make something YA usually does not come until the author has a deal.
Because of all of these revelations, when perhaps three weeks ago I was offered the chance to read the Percy Jackson series, I took it. I recently finished the fifth book, having devoured them quickly and rapaciously, even in the midst of exams. Getting hooked on any series when exams approach is as bad an idea as pointing a laser pointer in your own eye. Why are these books so addictive? I’m afraid you’ll have to discover that for yourself. Here is a synopsis of the debut.

After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.

This first installment of Rick Riordan’s best-selling series is a non-stop thrill-ride and a classic of mythic proportions.

There are five books in the series, and I really enjoyed them. At first, I was annoyed by little things. The meaning of some events were vague, and a lot happened for no reason at all. But as the series progresses, Rick Riordan finds his footing in about the third book, the plotting much smoother, the character motivations much clearer.

I believe it is extremely important to pay attention to YA books because they capture very adult themes while delivering a tight, fast-paced plot. People complain a lot about books either being pointless or too pretentious, and most YA books hit that sweet middle spot.

Like I said before, I have not read many YA books, but I will suggest a few I actually did read.

1.) The Underlander Chronicles

Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games author) first wrote this brilliant, multi-faceted series. Absolutely fell in love with it in the sixth grade. Great action with some quirky twists.

This irresistible first novel tells the story of a quiet boy who embarks on a dangerous quest in order to fulfill his destiny — and find his father — in a strange world beneath New York City.
When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor’s arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland’s uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it — until he realizes it’s the only way to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.

2.) Chronicles of Narnia

Classic books to better get in touch with your childhood imagination.

Narnia is the land of enchantment, glory, nobility–home to the magnificent Aslan, cruel Jadis (the White Queen), heroic Reepicheep, and kind Mr. Tumnus.

3.) Inheritance Cycle

Like dragons? Fair enough. Read this.

Fifteen-year-old Eragon believes that he is merely a poor farm boy—until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save—or destroy—the Empire.

4.) The Bartimus Trilogy

Possibly one of my favorite fantasy books growing up. As I begin to delve back into fantasy, I remember why I fell so deeply in love with the genre. This dark and stylized book thrilled me.

Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five and sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.

Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine. In British author Jonathan Stroud’s excellent novel, the first of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, the story switches back and forth from Bartimaeus’s first-person point of view to third-person narrative about Nathaniel. Here’s the best part: Bartimaeus is absolutely hilarious, with a wit that snaps, crackles, and pops. His dryly sarcastic, irreverent asides spill out into copious footnotes that no one in his or her right mind would skip over. A sophisticated, suspenseful, brilliantly crafted, dead-funny book that will leave readers anxious for more.

6.) Perks of Being a Wallflower

Not a fantasy or adventure series like the rest, this too is considered YA. It is beautifully written and will break your heart and make you crack up until you wheeze for air. For even further awesomness, there will soon be a movie of this starring Logan Lehrman and Emma Watson. Count me in!

Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.

If you read any of these books, including the Percy Jackson series, you will come away with a new appreciation for books usually meant for kids. While at 18 I’m supposedly an adult (under the law), I am certainly still in love with imaginative stories that spark my mind and carry me to magical realms.

Hornet Herald: Serialized Superheroes Inspire Society

{Originally printed in the Hornet Herald, released Thursday, now re-posted here.}

When the comics hit the newsstands, the fans wait to read the newest issue. Last time, Captain America fell off a precipice, pushed by a Nazi tank. Will he survive? The fans mill on the street, flipping through the pages to read what happens next. What happens next within the comic seems to be the only thing that matters at the moment.

We as a society are obsessed with heroes because those heroes reflect our values.

Beowulf was once that hero, the mortal man who rose above his calling to do something heroic. Today, we have the Avengers. On May 4, The Avengers movie will be released in theatres featuring superheroes such as Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Black Widow. Why do heroes even matter, and why do we follow them so ardently, buying issue after issue of a comic to follow a storyline?

Thousands of years ago we needed as we need today not just real heroes (firefighters or military leaders) but fictitious ones to represent what we believe as a society. We have expressed our deepest fears and greatest achievements through the stories of heroes. When World War Two began, comics became filled with masked men like Superman and Captain America. And what did Captain America stand for? America: liberty, freedom, and the defeat Hitler.

At that time in our history, America needed a patriotic hero.

In the 1970s, we met slightly different superheroes like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, representing heroes disillusioned with the country’s treatment of them and “the evils of capitalism.” For example, Moore’s masked Rorschach acted against the law to achieve what he believed personally just (a popular idea during this era).

Superheroes changed drastically in just three decades, from stalwart defenders of the Constitution to anti-war cynics. They change because America changes. Superheroes become whatever we need them to become and stand for what we need them to stand for.

After generations of change, how do the superheroes today measure up to those in the past? Due to a newly sparked interest in comic book heroes through recently released movies such as Iron Man, Thor, and The Dark Knight as well as the release of DC’s The New 52 (new and classic characters re-imagined to fit better into the mold of modern day), we must look at our superheroes have shaped us and how we shape superheroes.

What happens in our world is not just reflected in high-brow literature: in comic books, we see writers’ much more immediate reaction to tragedy. Comic books have featured suicidal religious cults, national terrorism, and corrupt politics, all trials that we have recently experienced.

For example, since the 1970s, we have seen a rise in female and minority superheroes (not just as sidekicks, but leading their own series). Female crime fighters such as Wonder Woman, Black Widow (part of the Avenger’s team) and Electra show that woman are just as formidable in tights as men. With the most recent comic reboot of Spiderman, we have adopted a multi-ethnic hero named Miles (who is half-Hispanic, half-African American).

While some see the purposeful change of a popular superhero’s race as a publicity stunt, I think it promotes the idea that heroes can arise from any background. Not everyone who will make a difference looks like Superman.

Comic book creators have also injected more realism into comics as well as the movies those comics inspire. We are no longer a society that needs a Superman, some infallible hero with unlimited powers; instead, we want characters vulnerable enough sympathize with and human enough to relate to. The humanizing of heroes has allowed us to place ourselves in a hero’s shoes: if even heroes can die yet overcome that fear to save the world, why can’t we?

As history progresses, we create superheroes more and more like ourselves perhaps because we love to see ourselves as heroes, even superheroes. Take for instance one of DC’s most popular characters Batman: he has no powers, only martial arts training and piles of money big enough to rival those of Scrooge McDuck’s. He appeals to us because he is both privileged and emotionally scarred—almost like America—and yet he uses what is given to him to defend Gotham City.

We need heroes as we have always needed heroes. Even if they are fictitious, we need someone to inspire us when times get tough, someone who will rise to the occasion and seize the day. We need that enigma to stand for something, and as long as glossy paper and America exist, we will have comic book superheroes who reflect our ideals and metaphorically protect us from wickedness.

Epic Fantasy Novels: They Are Epic

What can persuade a man to spend nearly a month reading one novel that is longer than the world encyclopedia five times over? A good story.

This post is part of my genre studies series where we dissect specific genres of books. Fantasy novels set themselves apart by being often incredibly long, sometimes upwards of a thousand pages.  But these books need such length for good reason. Think about Tolkein’s works. His Lord of the Rings, planned originally as a sequel to The Hobbit, spanned over 500,000 words. Compare that to the average novel which barely reaches 100,000. The story proved long enough to split into a trilogy, each counting well over 100,000 words. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series reaches over a million words in count.

Fantasy writers need a lot of words to fully convey the world they create. For that reason, fantasy writers are given more leeway over other writers on how long their novels can be. If a story is truly impressive, readers will gladly sit through 700 pages. While not regarded as an epic fantasy, instead as a kid’s fantasy, Harry Potter novels are heralded as “long.” People even brag that they “read all seven Harry Potter novels.” Well, hip-hip-hooray for you. While that boats an impressive 1,084,170 words, other famous fantasy series contain thrice that.

Robert Jordan’s famous fantasy series Wheel of Time, which I have not read, has reached over 3 million words.

Now, I’m not the sort of writer who hails anyone with high word counts as a genius. The tighter and shorter you can make your story, the better. It keeps a good pace for the reader: a tightly plotted novel at 90,000 words can be devoured in one or two days and leave a great impact on the reader. A fantasy novel of great length, however, is not the same beast.

I began considering the place of epic fantasy novels in the literary canon when I picked up the first book of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. I know I’m very late in the game considering I was three when the first book was released. His latest installment, the fifth, was released in the past year. A Dance with Dragons was released to very positive reviews and gracious fan reactions. Likely because it was published six years after the fourth book. Imagine: you wait six year to find out what happens next!

And it is no easy thing, waiting to see what happens next, as I quickly found out. I picked up the books after watching the HBO series entitled Game of Thrones which follows the books basically word-for-word with little embellishments. By the end of the series, I could not wait another year to see what happened. I bought a box set of the first four books and got reading. And read I did. Already familiar with the first book’s plot, I plowed through.

What keeps a reader compelled through a 1000 page book is that the author places something on each page to keep you turning those pages. Which means something drastic and exciting on each page. Martin is a master of character development and over the course of a thousand characters, it’s entirely possible. Yet he strives not just to flesh out the main characters (we are allowed to see through a different set of POV characters in each book), he also includes so many knights, sorcerers, and war lords that they’re hard to keep track of. But he makes each one so incredibly unique, you find that it is not actually too hard to keep track of the liturgical family trees and countless minor characters.

Fantasy novels are often derided because of their content. Martin’s work is rife with the usual cliches: dragons, knights, honor, kings, and things that go bump in the night (may the Others take you). But he actualizes those cliches to make them his own. Drawing off medieval history and folklore, he creates something incredibly real, incredibly human, and incredibly cool. I’ve literally never been so excited to read about dragons as I have during the end of Game of Thrones. These longer fantasy epics can incorporate such massive story lines, such a vast band of characters, and so many nuances, that you became insanely invested in the story itself. Now you may see why it would pain anyone to wait six years to find out “what happened next” when production companies shell out sequels to popular franchises, one each year.

The epic fantasy is another book that could get a lot of help from the advent of e-readers. With my Nook, I carry around thousands and thousands of pages at a time, a huge library. Lugging around books that almost reach 2000 pages is cumbersome, but I have the first four books in e-book format along with a few others. Those first four books, if you’re interested, comprise of more than a million words.

Fantasy novels allow us to explore worlds entirely not like our own. Martin’s world is one where treachery and honor relentlessly cut each others’ throats and swords clash and kings rule. We do not live in a world where dragons exist. America is not a place where we “bend the knee” to any king. Yet still in this strange place, the characters are painstakingly human. We can explore fellow people like us take on incredible tasks that we may never face. Yet we still learn something. There will always be a special place in my heart for dragons and centaurs and fairies and wizards.

Because no matter what genre you read, every reader is looking for something “magical.”

Graphic Novels Get Bloody Good

In the next few weeks or days or eons, depending on my ever-shifting ability to concentrate, I will be posting about a lot of different forms of writing, more specifically niche genres. We will explore their significance, their uniqueness, and famous works in each genre. Today, I really want to start off writing about graphic novels, even though they are a medium, not a genre.

Batman springs into action, catching the bad guys unawares.

BAM!

ZOOM!

SPLAT!

It began with comic books. Superheroes represented the ideal of good. There were heroes who were purely good and fought evil. And people certainly needed heroes in  the times of war during which comic books hit their boom. During the 1950s and 60s, comic books saw a dramatic rise in readership. Superheroes ruled the day from Superman to Aquaman to the X-men. The graphic novel is an extension of that same idea. The story is written in panels, longer than an issue of a comic book. Instead, it is novel length and contains its own plot. Superheroes such as batman and the X-men have seen their fair share of graphic novels, but the medium is used for more than that.

The most fresh use of the form I have seen recently is Craig Thompson’s Blankets. The novel simultaneously tells the tale of sibling rivalry, childhood repression, and budding romance. To read more about it, go here.

What makes this work unique is its use of the graphic novel panels to write not a fictional story but an autobiography. The story also includes themes such as sexual curiosity, first romances, and molestation… which means the panels contain a bit of nudity. Even nudity of children, which is an interesting and bold choice. Even a nude drawing of the author himself as a child. It sounds creepy, but instead it’s rather interesting because it does what you don’t expect it to. In graphic novels, writers can surprise me more because I am not overly familiar with the medium.

Is reading a graphic novel like reading a word-based novel?

Not exactly, but it can still be quite literary. Because you’re bombarded with panels of images, symbolism can effectively work. There are quite a few things you can do there that you cannot do in a normal novel and certainly, action scenes play out better. You can tell a different kind of story, sure. But you can also tell the same story differently. Which gives new breath to it. Take for example the upcoming The Gunslinger graphic novel adaptation, based on Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series. It will not be like reading King, but think of this as an alternative to making a movie out of it.

With the advent of e-readers, graphic novels are better than ever, some even interactive. Books can be cumbersome to carry and only avid comic fans buy every issue of a comic. If it’s sent straight to an e-reader, though, it is much easier to deal with. I’m certainly looking forward to buying some graphic novels for my Nook tablet to see how it might enhance the experience.

Though some contest it runs people’s literacy, I’d say no. I say it offers unique stories to people who may not have been exposed to the story before. Certainly, in future novels, I would like to try to make some of the more action-heavy scenes written as panels. It adds a lot of dimensions to a story.

To really understand how the medium affects the storytelling, go read a graphic novel. Though I would suggest Blankets and any Batman graphic novel, I believe the absolute best place to start off is Alan Moore’s Watchmen. It was the first graphic novel I ever read and certainly turned me on to reading that medium. The storytelling is simply fantastic, the characters compelling, and the artwork reminiscent of comic books of old with a modern twist. Though written in the 70s, the story still reverberates today and signifies much about American society and its view of heroes. If you were disappointed by the movie, don’t fret. The book is much better (as always!)

Before I take my leave, think of this. Blood on the page is hard to write. Crimson goo. Vermillion fluid. Life’s elixir. How should a writer describe it? In a graphic novel, it splatters across the page in a much more colorful way.

I definitely suggest checking out the medium and want to know your take on this.

Also, what genre/medium should I discuss next?